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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


A Masked Holiday


What Jewish holiday is the antithesis of Yom Kippur? Most would say it is Purim, a holiday given over to revelry, as well as indulgence in food and drink. And yet, per a kabbalistic work that appeared in the 16th century, Tikunay HaZohar, the two days are joined together. Taking liberty with the full name of Yom Kippur (Yom HaKippurim), the text declares it to be Yom K’Purim, a day like Purim. How so? On Purim it is traditional to be garbed in masks and costumes and on Yom Kippur we are masked, albeit only metaphorically. But whereas one continues to celebrate Purim while hidden behind one’s mask, on Yom Kippur one must remove one’s mask of self-image to stand fully revealed before the Almighty.


But this year it is different: we remain masked on this Yom Kippur. Our faces are hidden from other human beings. Indeed, all of us at times have found it difficult to discern who is behind a mask. But while we need to remain masked while out in public including at services, we must remove those metaphysical masks that separate us from God. We proclaim as part of our liturgy, “Ahtah Yodea Razai Olam, O God, you know the secrets of the world”: we cannot remain hidden before God. We have to be honest when we stand before the Holy One Blessed Be He.


There is some irony that the last time that many congregations gathered together, without all of the restrictions of these days, was Purim.


Towards the end of the book of Esther (9:1) there is a phrase that encapsulates both what happened in the time of Mordecai and Esther as well as in our present world: “V’nahafoch Hu, the opposite happened, or more literally it was turned 180 degrees”. In ancient times, the Jews who were doomed to extinction found themselves prevailing over their enemies. And today we live in a topsy-turvy world; in a world turned upside down. On a day we should stand revealed we are hidden. On a day when normally all of us are together in shule, we find ourselves apart: scattered through the sanctuary or even more distant watching the streamed services.


We pray that although this year we are apart physically that we will be united in spirit and commitment and we pray for the day that it again will be safe to congregate and to pray and celebrate together in person without our masks.


G’mar Chatimot Tovot, may we all be inscribed and sealed for good and healthy years.


P.S. Delighted to inform you that the CHAI Institute will convene this year, albeit all on-line. And then click on the link to the Chai Institute: a list of classes and of the lectures are posted there, as well as a link to registration—this year a bargain; only $36 per household. The classes will begin Monday night, October 19th.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel


No More Ouch


Is it better to rip off the bandage quickly or to slowly remove it? The first way can be excruciatingly painful for a short time, the other painful but at a much lower level. Professor Dan Ariely, who suffered 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body as a result of an accident when he was a teen, has a first-hand response to this question. What amazed him was his research as a professor of psychology and behavioral economics that most people would rather endure a lower amount of pain for a longer period than a very high amount of pain a shorter time: in short take the bandage off slowly.


Motivated by his own personal history and his research, prompted Dr. Ariely to become an advisor for an Israeli start-up, Inteligels. Based on the research of Professor Daniel Cohn, the company hopes to soon market a smart bandage that can be spread or sprayed on and therefore can conform to virtually any shape or size of wound, include hard to wrap injuries such as on the knee or even inside of the body, where the bandage can stop internal bleeding.


What makes this polymer-based bandage even more appealing is that it can wash off. While you can take a shower with it, cold water or an ice pack will loosen it and its dissolves as a liquid and can be flushed away.


Further benefits of this new approach is that they can be designed to deliver medications ranging from antiseptics to antibiotics and the trigger would be body temperature or pH levels. Furthermore, as the bandages are transparent, they will allow healthcare workers as well as patients to easily monitor the healing underneath.


It will be sometime before the product is generally available. The hope is that by the middle of next year that the FDA and the EU’s counterpart will grant approval and then it can be marketed.


Currently, Inteligels is working with an unnamed US medical provider to get its smart bandages into clinics and home care. And it is in advanced beta testing with a German veterinary group that has been testing Inteligels on farm animals and pets.







Payrush LaParashah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52) is read this Saturday, September 26th.


32:19 The Lord saw and was vexed And spurned his sons and daughters.


32:19 And spurned his sons and daughters. The commentators didn’t deal with the reason for this unusual phraseology. They reference the terms of sons and daughters to the name of God. God does have sons but doesn’t have daughters. One will not find in all of the holy writings any mention of God with reference to His daughters… Hence when the Text says “his sons and daughters” it is speaking about the children of Israel, specifically about males and females. Consequently, this phraseology has the meaning of interaction between a man and his wife. Accordingly the meaning of this phrase “MeKa’as Banav uV’notav” is: He was angry [Ka’as usually means anger] with them as sons are angry with daughters that is to say He sent them away as a man who is angry with his wife and sends her away from his  house… (Arnold Ehrlich, Mikra Ki-Pheshuto¸The Bible According to its Literal Meaning: Volume 1—The Pentateuch. Ehrlich was born in 1848 in Wlodawa, then in Russian Poland. At an early age he learned German through reading Moses Mendelssohn’s translation and commentary on the Bible. Married at the age of 14, he would leave behind his wife and children to move to Germany to further his general education. Eventually he would serve as librarian in the Semitics department of the Berlin Royal Library. For a short period of time he worked with the German Lutheran Bible scholar Franz Delitzsch and assisted him on his translation into Hebrew of the New Testament. This period of life would come back to haunt him, as Delitzsch, though a defender of Jews, was associated with a conversionary institute and rumors long persisted that Ehrlich converted to Christianity. In 1878 he moved to the United States. (Although the Encyclopedia Judaica; Wikipedia claims the move was in 1874.) Here in the States he found a position as a teacher at the short-lived Emanu-El Theological School in New York. By 1881 he was a naturalized citizen and listed his occupation as “Teacher of Languages.” In fact, he knew 39 languages, including all of the major European languages as well as Arabic, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. He served as an instructor in Arabic for several who were professors of Semitics, including Richard Gottheil, who taught at Columbia. In 1884 he published a small volume designed for students with selections from rabbinic literature. His major work, his Bible commentary, was published in 3 volumes in Hebrew over the course of 3 years, 1899-1901. [It was republished in 1969.] His commentary was generally ignored or panned by Jews, in part because he accepted some of modern Biblical criticism, and ignored by Christian scholars who didn’t read Hebrew commentaries. His publication in German in 1905 of a translation of commentary on the Book of Psalms served as hint of what was to come: beginning in 1908 and continuing through 1914 he published a 7 volume commentary on the Bible in German, Randglossen zur hebraeischen Bibel. Ehrlich, though shunned by many in the Orthodox world, nonetheless served as a mentor for a number of leading rabbis, including Samuel Schulman of Temple Emanu-El of New York and Stephen Wise of The Free Synagogue. He also was an influence on a young Mordecai Kaplan. Though listed as a consultant for the Jewish Publication Society translation of the Bible, which appeared in 1917, he was not included in the committee, despite his expertise, which he considered as one more professional affront. He died in New Rochelle in 1919.) 






The Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning (September 28th) is Leviticus 16:1-34


16:2 The Lord said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die, for I appear in the cloud over the cover


Moses was concerned lest he generate jealousy in Aaron’s heart, when he would say to him “not to come at will into the Shrine”, at the very time when this prohibition wasn’t applicable to him (“your brother is under the restriction of “not to come”; but Moses is not restricted by “not to come”—Torat Kohanim [aka Sifra, early rabbinic midrash on Leviticus]. The Holy One Blessed Be He said to him: this is the same brother Aaron who when he heard that you were destined to redeem Israel from Egypt, no jealousy overcame him, even though he was older than you; rather, on the contrary—“he will be happy to see you” [Exodus 4:14., and therefore at the moment you have no basis to be concerned that he will be jealous of you, and so “speak to your brother Aaron.” (HaDerash V’HaEyun cited in Alexander Zusha Friedman, Mah’yanah Shel Torah: Vayikrah. Rabbi Aharon Lewin, the author of HaDerash V’HaEyun [The Homily and The Intensive Study] was born in 1879 in the Galician community of Pshemishel [now in south-eastern Poland; 3rd largest Jewish community in Galicia before World War I]. He was the son of Rabbi Natan [Nosson] Lewin and the grandson of Rabbi Yitchok Shmelkes, who was the communal rabbi. By the age of 15 he had already produced Talmudic insights, which were incorporated into his grandfather’s collection of responsa. He would assist his grandfather even after Rabbi Shmelkes moved to Lemberg [Lvov/Lviv, Ukraine]. At the age of his 20, one of his sermons was printed in the volume Davar B’Ito [A Word in its Season]. In addition to his rabbinic studies, Rabbi Lewin mastered German and Polish. Married in 1902, he received semichah [rabbinic ordination] from his grandfather and two other leading rabbis, shortly before his wedding. In 1904, he began to serve as the rabbi of Sambor [then in Galicia; today part of Ukraine]. In 1913, he was appointed by the Austrian Emperor as “Advisor to the Emperor”: it was an honorific, but came in useful when during the First World War he was able to aid Jewish refugees who fled the East European war zone for Vienna. After the Russians retreated out of Sambor, he returned there. In 1920, he was invited by representatives of Warsaw to serve as the community’s chief rabbi, but because Polish law didn’t allow for the appointment of a chief rabbi, he remained in Sambor. It was there he was elected in 1922 to the Sejm. His knowledge of Polish enabled him to gain funds for Jewish schools. One of his most famous speeches was one calling for the abolition of the death penalty. He continued to reside in Sambor and would commute: a 15 hour train trip each week, leaving on Monday so he could be in Warsaw Tuesday through Thursday before returning to Sambor for Shabbat. During this long train trips he composed his commentary on the Torah HaDrash V’Ha’Eyun, the first volume of which was published in 1927. Rabbi Lewin was also an active participant in the activities of Agudas Yisroel. In 1927, half a year after his father’s death, he moved to Reisha [Rszeszow, Poland], and served as his father’s successor as communal rabbi. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II he was invited to serve as the rabbi of Lodz, but the war broke out before he could assume the position. Though his sons escaped Poland, Rabbi Lewin unsuccessfully tried to reach Vilna, but was trapped in Radin, which is where the Germans executed him in July, 1941. 5 volumes of his community on the Torah were published—two on Numbers; the manuscripts on Deuteronomy and the 5 Megillot were lost during the war. He also published a collection of his responsa, Sh’aylot uTeshuvot Avnay Chefetz [Questions and Answers of Precious Stones].)






Questions for Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32:1-52)


  1. Verse 4 is recited liturgically. When and where?
  2. God is referred to as “the Rock” in verse. Is this alternate name anywhere else in the Torah other than in this chapter? In the liturgy? In what key Israeli document?
  3. In verse 8 God is referred to as “Most High” (Elyon). Where else do we encounter this designation?
  4. Does verse 10 represent an alternate origins history of Israel?
  5. Where else do we find the image of God as an eagle? What prayer hints at this imagery?
  6. What delicacies are granted to God’s people in the land of Israel?
  7. Who is Jeshurun? What did it do to anger God and what was God’s response? Where does one find the use of Jeshurun today?
  8. Beyond the initial quid pro quo for unfaithfulness mentioned in v.23, what are the divine threats?
  9. Why will God not totally destroy Israel?
  10. What kind of wine was God offering? A good Bordeaux-style blend? In what kind of vessels was wine stored in the ancient Mid-east?
  11. In verse 39 there is the phrase “there is no god beside Me.” Is this an indication of a belief in monotheism or monolatry?
  12. Explain the final verse of the poem. Is Israel banished from the land or are Israel’s enemies destroyed?
  13. According to v. 49 Mount Nebo is in the land of Moab. How does this compare with where it is located on a map?
  14. Why was Moses sentence to die outside of the land of Israel? What did God grant Moses that he didn't grant Aaron?






Questions for Yom Kippur Morning Torah Reading  (Leviticus 16:1-34)


  1. Why is the death of Aaron’s sons mentioned at the beginning of this chapter on a purification ritual?
  2. When was Aaron allowed to enter the Shrine?
  3. Who/what was Azazel?
  4. Why was incense placed on the coals before entering the space where the Ark was located?
  5. According to the text (particularly vv. 16ff.) what is the function of the ritual?
  6. What happened to the second goat?
  7. Why was the person who deals with the scapegoat required to wash his clothes and bathe?
  8. What is the definition of “self-denial” (“afflict your souls” in the old JPS translation)?
  9. What is the relationship of this biblical ritual with our present observance of Yom Kippur?



Wed, September 30 2020 12 Tishrei 5781